House subcommittee seeks federal probe of ‘criminal gangs’ among L.A. County deputies
A congressional subcommittee has requested that the Department of Justice investigate allegations of systemic abuses by “criminal gangs” that employ aggressive policing tactics within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
“The allegations of abusive behavior by these criminal gangs within the LASD are deeply disturbing,” Reps. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) wrote Thursday in a letter to Assistant Atty. Gen. Eric S. Dreiband of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “If true, they represent egregious violations of the civil rights of the residents of the communities subjected to their violence and to the deputies who oppose these heinous practices.”
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A Sheriff’s Department spokesman said that the letter is “filled with unsubstantiated allegations and inflammatory rhetoric” and that the FBI and state attorney general were already asked to monitor certain ongoing investigations within the agency.
“So this request by Mr. Raskin and Mr. Gomez was already placed into motion by Sheriff [Alex] Villanueva months ago,” Lt. John Satterfield said.
He also said the department “is taking aggressive action in disciplining those employees that use their association in cliques to engage in misconduct against others, inside or outside the organization.”
Citing reporting by The Times, the letter says that deputy gangs have plagued the Sheriff’s Department for decades, since 1971, and that settlements related to “gang-affiliated deputies” have cost L.A. County taxpayers roughly $55 million.
“Not surprisingly, gang members have been implicated in heinous acts of brutality against Black people,” wrote Gomez and Raskin, who serve on the House Oversight and Reform subcommittee on civil rights and civil liberties.
The allegations have come up in recent excessive force and wrongful death claims and lawsuits, including one filed this week by the family of Andres Guardado, 18, who was shot and killed in June by a deputy in Gardena in an incident that sparked weeks of protests.
Villanueva has denied the existence of gangs within the department, saying trial attorneys are exaggerating the problem to get the best deals for their clients.
“I’m not buying it,” Villanueva said during a live broadcast Wednesday. “They don’t care that the product they’re selling doesn’t really hold weight, doesn’t have the facts to support it.”
A whistleblower deputy, who has filed a retaliation claim against the department, said under oath recently that the two deputies involved in Guardado’s shooting were prospective members of a deputy gang called the Executioners entrenched at the Compton sheriff’s station, claims their lawyers have denied.
The whistleblower, Austreberto Gonzalez, testified that 15 to 20 deputies are Executioners, who mark themselves with distinctive tattoos, and that at least a handful more are prospective members who are “chasing ink” by trying to prove they’re worthy of a tattoo. He said that it was his understanding that only two deputies are inked each year and that women and Black people aren’t allowed to join. A vast majority of members and prospects, he said, have been involved in high-profile shootings or beatings.
Villanueva said he has implemented — and is vigorously enforcing — a new policy that prohibits membership in illicit groups.
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